middle flight of 3, red-eye, no empty seats, 8.5 hours. check!
(my sweet baby rules)
Last week we spent 5 days in gorgeous Lisbon at the home of my friends Alex and Ellis. Lisbon is ridiculously beautiful. Every inch of the city was laid by hand with cobblestone and ornate tile. Street artists have also taken advantage of the peeling layers of history to add even more beauty to the mix. Wine, which is something I had not tasted in the nearly 3 years since I became pregnant, was so prevalent and inexpensive that I could not resist a glass, and of course had to pair it with some fancy nutty cheese for the total European experience. The sidewalks and squares in Lisbon fully boast cafe tables for outdoor fresh fish feasting, afternoon wine, or hot chocolate pit-stops. The colors of the buildings and the light (when the sun is out) provide a lift similar to that of southern Spain where everything feels a bit more lofty and weightless.
Unfortunately it was 90% grey and rainy for the duration of our trip. And we were ill prepared for the chilly winter since we packed for a perpetual spring. But our hosts suited us up sufficiently and we took to the streets (and streetcars) regardless. Public transport is prevalent between the metro, trolleys and buses, and it is necessary because Lisbon feels fairly spread out. Trekker loved riding on trolleys. But as someone who loves (and almost needs) a regular dose of walking, I am seeking to find a cheaper place to replicate last summer’s Brooklyn experience where I would cruise on my feet for hours while Trekker drifted in and out of sleep in his stroller, entertained by urban surroundings. Cobblestone does not allow for cruising. Neither do steep hills.
While I could potentially consider getting in tiptop shape via Lisbon’s hills- there are additional issues with the stroll there- the stroller wheels are constantly getting stuck in places like this:
and cars are commonly parked across the already narrow sidewalks like this and this:
These, and the fact that everybody smokes in Lisbon and my toddler stands/strolls at the exact height as a dangling cigarette, bearing the full brunt of smoke, are impediments to my “ stroller zen zone”. We did take a long stroll on the lovely, hill-less and spacious riverside walkway but Trekker soon tired of the bumpiness. We also tried going out one day without the stroller but that wasn’t so smooth with a heavy toddler either- there was a lot of carrying Trekker up hills and also a few moments of sudden fear that Trekker might fall down a steep hill or plummet the down the long steps from the view perches we stopped at. Also, since so many streets are also cobblestone it was also a bit difficult for Trekker to tell the sidewalk from street in some areas.
The Lisbon people were wonderful though – super polite and kind, very forgiving of my embarrassing lack of Portuguese, and always offering to help lift the stroller on and off of the buses. Portuguese people seem very warm and accepting of children in general. It may or may not also be worthy to note that the men also happened to be quite attractive. Or maybe my libido is finally returning.
While the people in Lisbon were super kind to help me with our stroller, I realized while in Lisbon that I would rather not use public transport on a regular basis, I’d prefer to live, work and play in one walkable neighborhood like we did in Brooklyn. So why don’t I move to a cheap small town? Because I want to be surrounded by an active street life, variety, options. While Lisbon is known for its active nightlife, as a single mom my social life (other than on Facebook) sometimes exists solely in daytime chance encounters at playgrounds or other public spaces, and my entertainment (other than from children’s books) comes largely from street musicians and people-watching. It’s hard to know if the rain kept more people indoors than usual the week we were in Lisbon but we really just didn’t encounter nearly as many street musicians and weirdos as I would have hoped for. (other than the weirdo below, outside the oceanarium.)
As for playgrounds, which are another one of my criteria in the perfect city list, I only saw them when I went out searching for them on a map. They do seem to exist but don’t seem to be totally bountiful. Apparently there is a really great playground at Lisbon’s huge city park but its location isn’t very convenient from the center of town with a stroller- you have to take public transport. Aside from playgrounds there is a wonderful Oceanarium where Trekker and I spent a drizzly afternoon, but again this is far away from the center and so wouldn’t be on a lifestyle stroller route.
My Lisbon synopsis: I feel blessed that I was able to catch up with friends and view the beauty of this romantic city and its people firsthand, and I could certainly imagine living here in another lifetime with a different trajectory, but, due to my circumstances in the here and now, Lisbon does not make the final cut for the best city for single moms with toddlers.
As a newly blogging mother of a toddler, choosing the nomadic lifestyle, I’ll start this blog by clarifying what I want for my son.
Here’s what I want for my son, where ever we end up, along the way, and generally in life:
to play. to feel safe. to be healthy. to experience joy, love, empathy and gratitude on a regular basis. to feel confident to express and develop his true nature and find something in life that he truly loves. to learn to handle difficult emotions in a healthy way. to learn multiple languages. to enjoy people. to meet exciting new people. to develop an open respectful attitude towards other cultures and people who don’t look like him. to open his taste buds early to global flavors. to be exposed to MUSIC- dancing, clapping, singing, drumming, instruments from other cultures. learn how to work and take care of himself (not because I plan on ending my duties as a mother early but rather because I don’t want it to be difficult for him to support himself later on. and because I want him to feel like he has some worth.)
At this age, cleaning up and helping fold laundry is a fun thing to do. Even if my toddler isn’t capable of doing these things WELL yet, it is a good idea to take advantage of the fact that work at this age is fun (or at least it can be if presented in the right way). In her book the Continuum Concept , Jean Liedoff proposes the idea that toddlers will both feel safer and learn how to live by watching a caretaker that is actively engaged in her work: “because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business.” This is actually an interesting factor when it comes to choosing the right place to live. As a long-term traveler I have come to understand some of the perks to expat life which are highly dependent on the inequities of world economies and societies. The most affordable places for us to live are also places that we could afford household help and where household help is a standard part of local culture. While this is terrific for a single mom trying to make it in this world, I also wonder: if my son is raised with someone else always cooking and cleaning for us will he ever learn to cook and clean for himself? I then wonder why is it so important to me that he learn to cook and clean for himself if he doesn’t have to?
My mother once told me something that her mother had told to her which is “never learn how to do something that you don’t want to get stuck doing for the rest of your life.” It was a wise piece of advice. However there is another side to that coin: if you don’t learn how to do it yourself you may end up dependent on someone else to get it done. While I don’t think its reasonable that EVERYONE needs to do EVERYTHING, since some people are just plain better at some things than others, and/or they need a job, I do believe that basic self-reliance is important. Since I will be modeling habits for my son during his early years while also attempting to also find enough time to play and work, maybe nice balance between self-reliance and healthy assistance would be a good idea.
OK Trekker is sitting in front of the TV. This is not something I planned for my almost 2 year old but he is watching a Dominican station called “Baby TV” which seems to have a never-ending stream of engaging animations with teletubby-esque feel mixed into scenes of real animals in the wild and butterflies emerging from cocoons and such. There are songs and dialogues in Spanish and it all seems fairly educational. He is sits there while I blog I allow this because my parents allowed it yesterday and it kept him busy. TV is not something I ever intended to sit my child in front of (except as a last resort on airplanes), nor was the giant basket full of toys we’ve acquired (mostly as a result of christmas with the grandparents) something I intended to posses or rely on. But somehow I’ve let these things creep into our lives and I suspect they are scheming to take over.
Many years ago, before I became a mother, I attended a concert in the Sahara desert in Mali, about 2 hours north of Timbiktu. The concert was hosted by the Tuaregs, a nomadic people who travel by camel across the desert and who for millennium have gathered annually at this same event to share news and music. One day I was standing in a tightly packed crowd watching a dance performance when I looked down and saw a baby attached to the back of the lady not one millimeter in front of me. I gasped. This was a very dangerous place for a baby to be, I thought. As the youngest of my siblings, I had had limited exposure to babies. The only ones I remember seeing were usually dressed in clean white nightgowns, sleeping peacefully in protected cribs with the lights turned down, soft music playing, and everyone around them was always being told to shush. My first thought at seeing this baby hanging off the back of this woman at this loud, crowded desert festival was that it was highly neglected. The mother looked at me strangely as did everyone else as I pushed against the crowd backwards to create a little space around the baby.
The image of that baby stuck with me for years but changed its meaning over time. I had become exposed to more women in Africa that carried babies on their backs everywhere and had begun to see the scenario as possibly more natural than the way we do it over here in the Western World.
Just a couple of years ago when I was pregnant, a friend lent me a book called The Continuum Concept written by a sociologist who lived with, and studied, the baby rearing techniques of the Yequana people in South America. The author concluded that optimum physical, emotional, and mental health results from babies who are in constant physical contact with a primary care-giver yet are NOT the center of that caregiver’s world. Basically her findings showed that the attach-the-baby-to-your-back-and-go-about-your-business approach yields much better results than the previous Western scenario I had envisioned as correct. Having become nomadic myself by the time I was pregnant it came as a relief to learn that I may not need to furnish my world with strollers, cribs and other cumbersome objects.
The Yaquana technique, also known by the wider western world as “attachment parenting”, seemed to have worked out well for us. I carried Trekker everywhere for the 1st 6 months, we co-slept and nursed, and I generally went about my business while he grew as a happy, healthy baby. By the time he was 6 months and already 28 pounds we took over an abandoned stroller we’d found on the street in Brooklyn, but I still carried him tons and continue to nurse and co-sleep even now. That said, now Trekker is nearly 2 and the “terrible twos” are possibly approaching. He has learned how to say “I want” and the toys have started to pile up and weigh us down. I have found myself relying on these toys and now even on a television. I have even used the toy bribery tactic.
A few years back I built a rooftop garden at a special little arts and music school for under-resourced kids near Varanasi India. Day in and day out I was struck by how simple and pure the children’s lives seemed to be. They had such limited resources but were so happy just playing and singing and seemed to really appreciate every meal and every opportunity to learn. They meditated daily and practiced yoga. They could sit in meditation for 20 minutes straight without even a blink- At 5,6,7,8,9, and 10 years old! They had almost zero toys, and certainly no video games, AND I NEVER ONCE HEARD A WHINE. I vowed that I would someday have a child and raise it at Wichi school or somewhere like it. While poverty does equate with a lack of representation and often a lack of access to basic resources, there is something positive to say for not being spoilt.
But the fact is- I am a freewheeling western woman and single mom. And while I AM comfortable using squatter toilets and/or composting toilets, and with hauling water, and/or with otherwise living completely outdoors, I DON’T want to live in a culture where women are continuously repressed (as they are in India) nor where pretending I have a husband might be necessary for the purpose of respect or safety. While traditional societies may have their merit, but they are not for me. I want to live somewhere where I can blast “dancing in heaven” out the window and dance my head off with my toddler then 5 minutes later sing Indian classical scales and meditate without stirring much interest. I want to live in a society where if my little boy wants to run around naked or wear a pink tutu everyday it just won’t be a problem for anyone.
So how do I reconcile this desire for my kid to be raised like the grateful children in the Indian village with my other desire to live in a liberal walking city surrounded by artists and progressives?
Maybe we will stumble upon a place that embodies all of these possibilities during our travels. The big adventure has already begun, we head to Lisbon tonight.
I am looking for a city to base out of, somewhere that Trekker and I would want to come back to each year and keep a relationship with. I thought it was Brooklyn but the cost of living in that city is impossible. Even if I were to take a full-time, well paying job (which I probably wouldn’t be qualified for anyway) I would then need to hire some sort of child care to take Trekker all day and with the cost of a studio apartment being upwards of $1800, and a full time nanny being around $2400, that’s $4200 already before factoring in food, transport and god forbid a little entertainment. Of course I could forgo the personal touch of a nanny and put Trekker in a random daycare to cut costs but F that, my career prospects in Brooklyn just aren’t alluring enough to warrant not being able to see my kid all day. I would MUCH rather live in a tent on the beach in Costa Rica for next to nothing (which I’ve done in the past) and do Astrology readings for tourists to support us (which I’ve also done before there was an “us”.) So, Brooklyn, I love you, and I’ll see you on Facebook.
I posted a query to my wide array of Facebook Friends asking which cities they would recommend for us. My requirements are that it be a walking city (as in you don’t need a car), with an active street life, plenty of weirdos, an art scene, a music scene, a strong culture of dancing, lots of playgrounds, kid-friendly restaurants and culture, and it is affordable. Size of the city doesn’t matter so long as it is easy to get around with no car and walking is a part of life. (Every time I spend time NOT in a walking city my energy seems to atrophy from sitting around too much. I realize that I could do something about that with a little self discipline but why not just build the exercise aspect into the lifestyle and save the discipline for something else?)
Some other qualities – which would probably be automatic if the first qualities were met- would be a) that the city is safe for a single mother to walk around alone and b) that I would never feel a need to lie about my marital status. Well I am not for lying anyway but there are times and places (like when you are 8 months pregnant searching for an apartment in conservative India) that a fake wedding ring and “traveling journalist husband” are to be relied upon.
These are some of the suggestions my FB friends made from the query I sent describing my perfect home base:
Montreal, Berlin, Buenos Ares, Lisbon, Austin, New Orleans, Rockaway Beach New York (its cheaper than my old neighborhood), Portland, Edinburgh, Vegas, Pai in Thailand, Reno, Copenhagen, Marseille, Baltimore, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and of course Montezuma Costa Rica.
I dig it. And I would also consider Auroville (near Pondicherry, India), Chiang Mai Thailand, and Fort Kochi, India. I will first be examining each of these cities through an Astro-locality filter (I’ve booked a session with a pro! For those of you who have no idea what Astro-locality is, I will write a separate post about it explaining more after I have that experience.) Once the not-astrologically-fitting locations have been filtered out, I will add the winners to Trekker and I’s next World Tour which is due to begin within the next couple of weeks dependent on what travel deals I find on kayak.com and the timing of my next period.
So it’s 2015 and I’ve just realized that although I may have stopped for a few months at a time in some places, I’ve not lived in one place for more than 6 months straight since 2006. That’s 9 years of travel.
Nearly 2 years ago, on the tip of southern India, my life changed in an extraordinary way. I spent 37 hours in what seemed like the worst excruciating hell imaginable, attempting to expel a very large being from my body, and finally, with the exhaustive help of some radical midwives, managed to surrender to ripping myself apart at the seems, literally, to birth the most beautiful creature I’ve ever encountered. A couple months later I was on the move with that baby. And now I am traveling with that toddler.
I write a lot and take photos everywhere we go so I figure its time to start a travel blog. As a single mom on a budget traveling the world with a toddler my findings may potentially be useful or interesting to somebody. In the very least this blog will serve to help me to order my life, hypotheses, and discoveries, and be documentation of my son’s early adventures for when he grows up~
Hi Trekker! Congratulations on learning to read! Btw, the title to this first blog is from a Metallica song called Wherever I May Roam. It was big when I was in high school and it’s one of my karaoke favorites.